An automated system for positive reinforcement training of group-housed macaque monkeys at breeding and research facilities

J Neurosci Methods. 2017 Jun 15:285:6-18. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2017.04.015. Epub 2017 May 1.


Background: Behavioural training through positive reinforcement techniques is a well-recognised refinement to laboratory animal welfare. Behavioural neuroscience research requires subjects to be trained to perform repetitions of specific behaviours for food/fluid reward. Some animals fail to perform at a sufficient level, limiting the amount of data that can be collected and increasing the number of animals required for each study.

New method: We have implemented automated positive reinforcement training systems (comprising a button press task with variable levels of difficulty using LED cues and a fluid reward) at the breeding facility and research facility, to compare performance across these different settings, to pre-screen animals for selection and refine training protocols.

Results: Animals learned 1- and 4-choice button tasks within weeks of home enclosure training, with some inter-individual differences. High performance levels (∼200-300 trials per 60min session at ∼80% correct) were obtained without food or fluid restriction. Moreover, training quickly transferred to a laboratory version of the task. Animals that acquired the task at the breeding facility subsequently performed better both in early home enclosure sessions upon arrival at the research facility, and also in laboratory sessions.

Comparison with existing method(s): Automated systems at the breeding facility may be used to pre-screen animals for suitability for behavioural neuroscience research. In combination with conventional training, both the breeding and research facility systems facilitate acquisition and transference of learning.

Conclusions: Automated systems have the potential to refine training protocols and minimise requirements for food/fluid control.

Keywords: Automated; Non-human primate; Positive reinforcement training; Refinement.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry
  • Animals
  • Breeding*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Electronic Data Processing / methods*
  • Female
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*